The People's Protection Units (YPG) said last week they have launched new attacks on Turkish armed forces and their allied Syrian opposition groups in the Kurdish populated Afrin region in Syria’s Aleppo province.
Turkish forces and their Syrian opposition allies gained full control of Afrin district on March 18th, 2018, after an eight-week offensive to drive out the Kurdish YPG fighters.
Since the capture of Afrin, Turkey has threatened to continue its operations against the YPG in the Manbij region of north-eastern Aleppo, as well as in the eastern Euphrates, where US forces are stationed alongside the YPG, Washington’s ally against Islamic State in Syria.
Ankara accuses the Kurdish YPG fighters in Syria of being affiliated to its banned militant Kurdish Workers Party and has vowed to defeat what it described as a “terror corridor” of YPG held territory along Turkey’s southern border with Syria.
The Kurdish militia said that a car carrying opposition fighters from the Ahrar al-Sham group was blown up near a village on July 28th, with an unknown number of casualties. On July 29th, four opposition fighters from the Hamza Brigade and a Turkish soldier were reported killed in Basutah. On July 31st, opposition fighters and a Turkish soldier were killed near the village of Kimara.
Two emerging YPG resistance cells - called “Afrin Hawks” and “Wrath of Olives” - have posted on social media several videos of infiltration attacks against opposition groups across northern Aleppo and claimed responsibility for several other assassinations. ‘Wrath of Olives’ has claimed the assassination of a Faylaq Al-Sham senior commander in Idlib province.
The Turkish army and Syrian opposition groups did not confirm the casualties in Afrin. A wave of arrests targeting suspected YPG members by opposition groups was launched last week. This could indicate that local authorities regard the new YPG cells as a threat to the stability of the areas under their control.
While the YPG attacks appear to have had little influence on Turkish military control in Afrin, they have provoked significant retaliation by Turkish forces against the YPG.
IED detonations have hit the opposition-held northern Aleppo region, also known as the Euphrates Shield area. On some occasions, the IEDs were discovered and rendered safe by the local authorities, who attributed the attacks to YPG infiltrators and pro-YPG groups entering the Euphrates Shield from YPG-held Menbij. The YPG have denied responsibility for the attacks in the Euphrates Shield area, blaming these on internal tensions and divisions among opposition groups.
Up to now, the YPG claim to have killed over two thousand Syrian opposition and Turkish soldiers since the Turkish army began its operations in Afrin on January 20th.
The Turkish army in July said they had killed over 4,500 YPG fighters during the Olive Branch Operation, while 54 Turkish soldiers were killed, and 236 others injured. No independent sources are able to verify the scale of causalities resulting from those operations.
As a regime offensive on the opposition held Idlib region looms, YPG officials hope to return Afrin to their control. A top YPG official has also stated that their forces could join any future offensive by regime forces against opposition groups holding Idlib province and cooperate more widely against Turkey. Turkish forces have set up observation points along frontlines between the opposition and the regime.
Afrin, when under the control of the YPG, was a relatively safe haven throughout the war compared to the rest of Syria’s contested north. Not far from the Turkish border in the country’s northwest, it has been a majority Kurdish enclave over recent years.
Several western countries, including France and the US, have given arms and training to Syrian Democratic Forces - a YPG led militia fighting against Islamic State in Syria - and also have dozens of special forces personnel based in the region.